Physical Activity and Menopause

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Exercise 

Menopause is bad.

Exercise is good. 

More exercise is the solution!

Is that it?

It’s not quite that simple, although most things you will read will tell you that any form of physical activity is helpful. There is a lot of truth to it. Physical activity at any age is beneficial and for women during mid-life exercising carries additional substantial health benefits. The menopausal transition is associated with many health risk factors such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, decreased bone mineral density, metabolic syndrome, and musculoskeletal symptoms. Exercise prescriptions for those health risks are the same as for non-menopausal women.

However, according to my research, not all forms of physical activity are of equal benefit in helping with menopause symptoms. In fact, some forms of exercise can exacerbate certain types of symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia.

I believe that it is important to pick the type of exercise depending on your symptoms rather than just exercise to exercise.

So how do you know which exercise is best for you? You start by reading this blog 🙂 To help you find your way through the labyrinth of research that is out there, I’ve consolidated the findings of the last 20 years of research on this topic so you don’t have to.

First I want to highlight the overall benefits of exercising regardless of symptoms:

Increases:

  • Benefits brain function and functional capacity
  • Increases beta endorphins
  • Quality of Life
  • Strength and balance
  • Increased Bone Mineral Density
  • Increase in quality and length of sleep
  • Maintenance of healthy BMI
  • Self-perceived physical condition
  • Sport competence
  • Body image & physical self-worth

Decreases

  • Vasomotor Symptoms
  • Somatic & psychological symptoms
  • Depression (1 exercise session/week = 22% reduction)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Body Mass Index
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Cardiovascular Disease (50% reduction)
  • Overall mortality (20% reduction)

Exercise has many benefits but can also be stressful on the body

Too much exercise and/or intensity can:

    • Decrease sleep quality and length, which in turn is correlated with adverse physiological and psychological outcomes
    • Increase circulating cortisol levels, which can lead to increased abdominal fat (read last week’s post for more info on this)
    • Have negative effects on thermoregulation as it causes substantial increases in metabolic heat production and core temperature (during exercise, metabolic heat production can increase by ten to twenty-fold and recent studies suggest that hot flashes are triggered by small elevations in core body temperature)
  • Moderate intensity appears to have the most benefits
    • Highest menopause-specific quality of life
    • Lowest number of symptoms
    • Increased sleep, energy, confidence, mood

The following exercise guidelines are specific to helping you with menopause symptoms as well as increased quality of life throughout the menopausal transition. These recommendations do not apply to overall physical health.

Type of Exercise 

Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for successEndurance/aerobic training best for increased sleep

Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit WorkoutStrength training for body image, strength, body aches

young yoga female doing yogatic exericiseYoga for vasomotor (VMS) symptoms and overall menopause-specific quality of life (Hatha yoga for cognitive function (memory, concentration)

walking womanWalking at ~3-3.5 mph for anxiety and depression

Duration & Intensity

  • Moderate Intensity (60-70% Target HR)
  • Min. 3 x week (more days = decreased severity of symptoms)
  • Programs lasting at least 12 weeks

Special Considerations

  • Keep body core temperature at comfort level to avoid increases in VMS
  • Focus on activities that are enjoyable to you. Forcing yourself through workout regimens that you dislike can have negative effects on quality of life. I hear too many people say: “I think I should run more” and my question to them is “Why? Do you like running?”. “No, but it’s good for you”. Really? Is it? I don’t believe in doing things just because someone said they’re good, especially in regards to exercise. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick to it. It’s as simple as that. And when it comes to working out, consistency is the key. So find activities that you truly enjoy. Not only will you continue doing them and reap the physical and mental benefits but doing things you love will help you reduce stress and keep off that unwanted meno-pod (if you don’t know what a meno-pod is, you have to read last week’s post).

Have a comment or question? Leave me a note on the blog or tweet me @doctorluque

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria

All information is based on peer-reviewed research. I usually add a reference list of all the articles I read to put together an article but this one would be way too long. If you’re interested in finding out more about specific research articles used for this blog, contact me.

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